From 1995 to 2007, Alan S. Johnson served as the frontman for U.S. Maple, a Chicago-based band that defied any kind of "genre" catergorization. Frequently pegged as "noise rockers" or "deconstructionalists," Al and co. instead seemed to construct a new sonic palate rather than "take apart" established ideas of music, as "deconstruction" implies. The songs of U.S. Maple were entirely complex, made up of bizarre rhythms and beautiful atonalities that could allow listeners to enter a strange and mysterious place where most rockers would fear to tread.
The tragedies and triumphs in my personal life are still under constant evaluation. The common element shared between my musical endeavors and personal life was opportunities. Opportunities present themselves and you act upon them, sometimes without the necessary evaluation needed for making a wise, potentially detrimental choice. Sometimes as with U.S. Maple the more fragile and reckless we were on and off-stage, the more intense, interesting the show. I think at some point during the Maple years I blurred the two entities which in hindsight wasn’t very helpful. As a father and a writer I feel I have a second chance to set the “aperture” for myself, to be a more effective human being. I have a lot to offer creatively in many areas. I am constantly drawing from a well-spring of screwed up memories. You can’t buy that kind of education.
If you paid particular attention you would have observed that one album, ‘Sang Phat Editor’ used a particularly sensitive controversy, the Vietnam War to glamorize and champion. The colors I chose for the art-work were day-glow, camouflage patterned. I wanted to glamorize a particularly horrible event in our history. I also wanted to incorporate gaudy advertising techniques. On the front of the album were die-cut incisions with a removable post-card picture of the band, “from the front-lines”. You could actually send the post-card via mail. I have to credit both Mark Fischer from Skin Graft and my fellow brothers in Maple for making this concept palpable. Kim Ambriz took the Vietnam photographs of the band on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The photograph you are referring to was the press-shot. It was quite lovely. We then did a promotional thing at Reckless records in Chicago. I thought, hmmm… let’s do a live window display where we are dressed in the fatigues, playing checkers drinking beer, and tallying up kills for “Charlie”. We were a living, breathing bad idea, freaking people out. Yeah, try that shit today and see what happens. My God, Pat Samson (drummer) looked incredible… he was drinking Old Milwaukee, playing cards within the storefront while Mark Shippy (Guitarist) was pacing back and forth out front on the sidewalk, calling in air-strikes with an old cordless phone…priceless.
One final thing: I have always found The Vietnam war fascinating. I currently work with a number of Vietnam Veterans. The thing with these guys is to NOT ask those, questions about the war, just let them talk. They will talk… eventually. I savor these conversations.
I wanted terribly to cover, ‘Dirty White Boy’ by Foreigner. That song still kicks my ass but the problem for the band at the time which I should have foreseen was that… it’s just too basic. When we tried to cover it, it either was played verbatim or it was morphed into what I believe to be an insect’s dream-soundtrack.
We did play Naked Raygun’s, ‘Peacemaker’ live at the fabulous Lounge Ax in Chicago. Had we spent more time on that song… it would have been a beautiful tribute to a seminal band. Goddamn, I love that band, that song. Do you know how much Gatorade you could sell with that song? I’m currently a senior at Clarke University here in Dubuque. I’m majoring in Communications- Advertising and Public Relations.
Touring with Pavement was our Vietnam, alas a blessed one. David Berman from The Silver Jews and Drag City positioned us well to be considered as an opening actfor Pavement. I believe Stephen was figuring… that he was nearing the end with his band and that Maple would be a hoot… We were the sacrificial lambs. The thing was, we were used to fighting, and their collegiate puppy fraternity wasn’t going to beat us. It was a riot, literally and I remember specifically carrying a bayonet knife onstage given to me by the beautiful and talented Azita Youssefi whom I was dating at the time.
These Pavement fans wanted blood, thousands of them at a time. We played Philly and I remember specifically being thrown a gin and tonic from the balcony in correct order of the drinks ingredients: I was first hit in the head with a cup, then in the cheek with a lime, some ice, a bit of tonic, gin and a pile of ice. It was poetry in motion. Nobody could get to us though; we had been through so much. Now we were gaining fans for just sticking to the mat. I also remember Matador records calling Drag City and saying, “We are getting so much hate/love mail, that we are sending it to you”. The correspondence from the Pavement fans was enormous, passionate and violent. More importantly it was as thick as a NYC telephone book.
Needless to say we were hired on for another few weeks. Every night was a goddamned battle. We loved and relished in it all. During those shows, the words of wisdom I received from the Royal Trux were constant: “Steal their faces man”. We were playing in front of thousands, every night. Even if we garnered ten percent of that… it was all good. More importantly, Pavement was incredible as were the Dirty Three, who came aboard mid-tour.
I love David Yow for many reasons despite his acting. He is a talented artist, genuine, one of a kind. I’m afraid to say that I have doubts anybody will be able to trump his dire honesty and energy. You know what? I was recently watching Tony’s footage of the Lizard’s last shows… I was finally keying in on the lyrics, and well, they’re goddamned good! In the past, I dismissed them, what a fool I am. We used to shoot pool together with Steve Albini. I have been so fortunate to have been friends with such talent; more importantly, great friends with quality miscreants.
I believe David is capable of actualizing anything he wishes. He is a true original, a talent; seeing him perform live leaves one with the impression that you have just been visited by an orb from the ancient elders.
I started reading about Derek in 1985 as a high school student. Jim O’Rourke enlightened me further when Maple was recording, ‘Long Hair in Three Stages’. I was so completely interested in his style. I am a guitar player, can read and write music, played the flute for nine years, studied organ and piano for three years. I understand music, can talk to musicians, God forbid you leave them to themselves… Derek Bailey and Maple were to do collaboration. We were then informed that he wasn’t “into” the instrumental we sent him and that he tried but could not come up with something he liked.
About a month later I received a letter from him saying and I’m paraphrasing here: at first I didn’t like the song, but after a while I loved it and here is my contribution, do with it what you like, Regards Derek. I have this letter in my possession as well as a DAT tape that may or may not be functional. I later saw him at an All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival. He opened for the Aphex Twins. We had already played. I watched him destroy time and space, this old man tore shit up. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention while he made a mockery of every act there. I will never forget that.
I love Jim. I owe him $2000 bucks. Jim was the first engineer to acknowledge us. As well, we were his first rock and roll band that he recorded. I miss him. It’s been quite some time since we’ve spoken. He is not to be undermined. I owe him $2000 bucks. He’s plotted a successful path for himself and I’m happy for him. I owe him $2000 bucks. He has the largest vinyl collection/knowledge I’ve ever come to know. I owe him $2000 bucks. He is to be revered, but doesn’t belong in a rock and roll band. I owe him $2000 bucks. Jim promoted us; he was the first, our platform leap, a solid engineer. I owe him $2000 bucks.